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The percentage of Israeli Arabs who successfully completed their compulsory matriculation exams continued its sharp decline in 2006, dropping to 35.7 percent, compared to 42.2 percent three years ago.

Overall, the percentage of 17-year-old Israelis who successfully passed their exams stood at 50.7 percent in 2006, the Education Ministry announced Monday. The number is similar to the success rate in 2004.

There was a significant gap between the success rates among 17-year-olds from different demographic sectors: 58.7 percent among Jews, 35.7 percent among Arabs, and 29.7 percent among Negev Bedouin.

The numbers do not include the ultra-Orthodox or East Jerusalem Arabs, who do not take the matriculation exams.

The statistics also show a higher success rate among girls than among boys ? 63.1 percent versus 51.6 percent.

After dropping two years ago, the success rate among immigrant students held steady at 45.3 percent.

Not all high school students who successfully completed their compulsory matriculation exams meet university acceptance requirements, however. Among Jewish students, 89 percent of those who completed the exams meet the university requirements, compared to 79 percent of Arab students and 59 percent of Bedouin students.